Published on Backbench on 10th October 2014.
In Hong Kong, the date ‘28th September 2014’ will forever be remembered as the day the Umbrella Revolution began. Yet as we approach the end of the second week for the movement, the question now is: how does this come to an end?
“On the basis of ‘one country, two systems’, the problem must be solved locally and politically.” That was part of the negotiation offer made by the Hong Kong Federation of Students last Thursday, in response to the government’s erroneous attempt to pit police against protesters, using force to end a political problem. The prospect of a peaceful end to the Umbrella upheaval seemed likely again.
However, when pro-Beijing mobs crashed into one of the occupied spots, instead of ordering the police to act, the city’s leader – CY Leung – seized this opportunity to call for the protesters to leave. Unlike the earlier snap response by Hong Kong police, readily engaging protesters with pepper spray and tear gas, there was no anti-riot police present to protect protesters, including school children in uniform. There is evenfootage of policemen escorting members of mobs and send them off on taxi.
This is extraordinary for Hong Kong, a city that battled with triads and police corruption when under British rule. A city that caused the establishment of the ICAC, which is famous for making Hong Kong one of the least corrupt cities in the world. This well managed reputation was shattered yesterday, when Russian skinheads-style violence was introduced to the Pearl of the Orient. By any country’s standards, this is a human rights crisis. As Amnesty International made clear, “Hong Kong’s police failed in their duty to protect the demonstrators. Women and girls were among those targeted, including incidents of sexual assault, harassment and intimidation.”
This is no longer a matter of “China’s internal affairs” – as the country’s foreign minister put it in Washington earlier last week. The international community should show the same concern it did with beaten up Tibetan monks, the imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Liu XiaoBo, as well as it with human rights abuse from Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to Putin’s persecution of the LGBT activists in Russia.
We must also reject the misguided colonial apologists. One of whom is the author Martin Jacques, who argued recently that “there is no alternative: China is Hong Kong’s future.” Jacques disregarded turned a blind eye on the fact that Beijing will be able to vet candidates at present and in the future, and instead chose to focus on the past – that Britain never allowed democracy in Hong Kong. “Although Hong Kong came, over time, to enjoy the rule of law and the right to protest, under the British it never enjoyed even a semblance of democracy.” Jacques went on to blame the “much larger group (than what he called anti-Beijing democrats), among them many students, who oppose Beijing’s plans for more idealistic reasons.
Many outsiders who are less well-informed on Hong Kong’s history would fall for Jacques’s fallacy. Yet given a careful second thought, anyone can see Mr Jacques’ ‘peculiar’ argument defies logic. How can we justify colonial injustice in the past with Chinese quasi-colonial injustice at present? Have we forgotten about the basis for Hong Kong’s handover in the first place – democratisation and the protection of its way of life? When we criticise the ‘idealists’ and ‘radicals’ in the crowd, shouldn’t we remember it was the students initiated the dialogue first, only to halt the channel when police refused to protect protesters?
As I emphasised on BBC West Midlands (from 34:28 onwards), Hongkongers seek real democracy and genuine universal suffrage – basic human rights. Democracy was promised in the first place because Hongkongers believed it is the safeguard to our liberties. This has been highlighted by the violence by both the police and the mob on peaceful protesters. Without the right to genuine universal suffrage, come another Beijing-vetted administration, Hong Kong’s liberties will continue to be lost in the name of national security and patriotism.
The world can no longer stay silent. Whether you support the Umbrella Revolution or not, whether you think this is China’s internal business or not, so long as you believe in the freedom from fear, you should condemn the naked violence we have seen this week. The protests will only end when violence ceases. The movement will only end when there is a political solution, for this is a political problem.
But one thing is for sure: this will not end with mobs harassing young men and women. And this will not end unless Beijing begins to soften its stance.